John, Long Gone

A final introspective, before the Sympathy records founder moves

Long Gone John finally lives up to his piratical name. The far-sighted art collector and owner/operator of Long Beach independent record label Sympathy for the Record Industry is trading his gracious but jam-packed Spanish-style house-behind-the-Jiffy-Lube for what sounds like the San Simeon of Olympia, Washington.

But before he leaves, the man who had the foresight to record Courtney Love before she went stalker-y, who signed the White Stripes on a handshake when they were still playing honky-tonks like the Foothill Club, and who loves the Gun Club like almost nobody, is giving us one last look at his innards. (Which are much more nicer than Skynrd's.)

Besides introducing us to bands like the Lazy Cowgirls, Holly Golightly and, er, Shashiko Dee and the Fashion Plates, John is a longtime supporter of yer pals Robert Williams, Mark Ryden, Todd Schorr, Camille Rose Garcia, et al. As an interior decorator, his tastes run famously to life-size statues of anime characters, novelty-size bugs from that Cootie game, giant phrenology heads, old doctor's office furniture and the beginnings of a chicken-bone window blind—making his Virginia Country Club-adjacent joint the most unsettlingly coolest non-art gallery ever. Why leave? No more room, and a million other reasons—one of them being that Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana will show a bunch of his best collectibles, paintings—maybe even re-create a bit of his house, in all its purple-painted dim glory—and then truck it up north to Riot Grrrl-ville. (They're even screening Gregg Gibbs' movie about him, The Treasures of Long Gone John.) John elaborates.

OC Weekly:Why leave now?

Long Gone John: I think my greatest motivation is to be somewhere where there's clean air. Every time I drive from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles and look at the shit in the sky, that really bothers me. I also don't like 90-degree weather in late November. Some people are questioning whether I'm going to like it in Olympia. I don't know. It's very different, but I feel very creative and motivated when it rains. I stay in my house 90 percent of the time anyway.

So how swell is your new house?

It's a 5,500-square-foot waterfront property. It's from the 1970s, and I hate modern architecture. But I'm not going to find what I want up there, so I have to go in and fuck it up myself. It's got 180 feet of private beach, it's in a forest, and there's a windy road to get to my property. And all that for—if that property existed in L.A., it'd be a $6 million property. People who live in L.A., Malibu, they have 3 feet between themselves and their neighbor. I look out my window and I just see green.

If you're packing up, isn't that the worst time to show people your stuff?

This completely coincides with my move, so everything I'm able to give her [Andrea Harris, Grand Central's director] for the show, my intention is to pack it. And then she's going to drive everything up to Washington when she's done. I couldn't ask for a better deal. The hope is to get a lot of stuff in there. She's immediately taking the three big paintings: the brand new painting that Todd Schorr did [A Pirate's Treasure Dream], and then I have a big Mark Ryden, the Snow White painting. And then I have a huge piece by Robert Williams.

I'm trying to get her to take some sculptural things that I have, like I have this giant Eugene the Jeep statue that's from 1950. I have a lot—I'd like to put these bronzes I have from . . . where are they from? . . . Thailand. A lot of Asian stuff, a lot of deity stuff. I have these three life-size anime girls in my office, they're in, like, real schoolgirl uniforms. You know, so right there is, like, the spectrum—from, you know, 100-year-old bronzes from temples in Thailand to five-year-old anime characters from Japan. And they're both equally as important and valuable to me.

How did you begin collecting what some people now call lowbrow art or pop surrealism?

Well, um, I guess my first exposure was, there was a show—I don't know what year it was—called "Western Exterminators." It had [Ed "Big Daddy"] Roth, Von Dutch, Robert Williams, Georgeanne Deen, Mark Mothersbaugh, I don't know who else. It was pretty much the beginning of shows in L.A. and I just happened to be there. All of a sudden one day I thought, 'I really like this stuff and if I'm ever going to buy it I had better buy it.'

My first piece was a Robert Williams, from Psychedelic Solution, and it was $1,800. And that was an exorbitant price. Robert used to complain I was taking a long time to pay it off. And then I became aware of things as they appeared. Todd Schorr, Mark Ryden. Camille Rose Garcia, Liz McGrath—there's no shortage of talented people.

What's your criteria as a collector?

All I want to do is surround myself with things that I suppose make me happy. Just big colorful things that, you know, I like to fill my existence with. Stuff. And that's the high end of the stuff 'cause I go from, you know, beautiful artwork down to shit that other people wouldn't stoop and bend over to pick up off the ground.

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